Story of Old Cinemas in Shanghai

Shanghai is a cradle of the Chinese film and once occupied half of the film market in China. Few old cinemas can be seen today after much vicissitudes, but they remain charming to visitors. Today, we will follow the step of the old cinemas and walk into prosperous times of Shanghai films.

Grand Cinema (Former Grand Theatre)

This cinema was first built in 1928 and reconstructed on the same site in 1932. Designed by Hudec, a renowned Hungarian architectural designer, it’s a structure of the American modern art style. The south façade was made of large pieces of glass windows and an opal glass plate canopy. The hallway is very spacious, and the cinema was equipped with 2,000 sofa seats. In the 1920s and 1930s, almost all films screened by the Grand Theatre were imported from Europe and the United States. As the films were in the original, each seat was equipped with a pair of earphones. Boys in uniforms and flat top hats would open the gate to usher the audiences to the portico. The ticket price was as high as five times of the monthly living expenses for the local people, so watching films at the Grand Theatre was then regarded as a symbol of quality life. For ordinary residents, a visit to the cinema was an extravaganza worth bragging about to their peers. Therefore, they usually went to the cinema in their Sunday best, women wearing cheongsam and men suits and ties.

Shanghai Grand Cinema (Former Grand Theatre)

Address: No. 216, West Nanjing Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai.

Guo Tai Cinema (Former Cathay Theatre)

It was invested by overseas foreigners in Shanghai. The walls of the two wings along the street corners rise toward the central part in steps, full of enterprising spirits, which is a classic symbol of Art Deco. With a broad design, the stately projection hall provided 1,081 seats for audiences, no stand column. Cathay Theatre was opened on 1 January, 1932, and an advertisement hailed it as the most magnificent and elegant cinema in the city. Elieen Chang, a renowned author, once wrote: “By nature, modern cinemas are the cheapest imperial palaces, great structures all equipped with glass velvet and scagliola. Entering this movie theatre, one can see the light cream color of the basement. The whole place looks like a yellow glass cup enlarged by thousands of times. It’s a particular type of glittering and fantasy-like purity”. As it was situated in an area inhabited by Europeans and Americans in Shanghai, all films shown in Cathay Theatre were blockbusters of Paramount Pictures Corporation. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc and other leading film corporations, which helped enhance its popularity among locals.

Shanghai Guo Tai Cinema (Former Cathay Theatre)

Address: No. 870, Middle Huaihai Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai.

Shanghai Concert Hall (Former Nanking Theatre)

On 26th March, 1930, Shanghai’s first structure of the classical western European style, designed by Chinese architects, Fan Wenzhao and Zhao Chen, was inaugurated. This was the first theatre showing foreign movies in Shanghai, the premiere film was “Broadway”, a song and dance one produced by American Universal Picture Co. The films showing here were mainly produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and etc. In 1959, in order to hold the first “Shanghai Spring Concert”, a professional theatre for music shows was needed. This cinema was chosen as the most ideal place since its superior sound effects produced by the special architectural structure. Therefore, the once Nanking Theatre turned into today’s Shanghai Concert Hall. In order to retain this excellent building, it was moved 66.46 meters horizontally toward the southeast from the originally site and raised by 3.38 meters in 2002. The whole structure was renovated to a new face too.

Shanghai Concert Hall (Former Nanking Theatre)

Address: No. 523, East Yan’an Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai.

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